Hi Math is Everywhere Readers,
Happy new year! I’m super excited to start things off with a twist with our very first author and editor team interview on the Math is Everywhere blog! And I’m even more excited that it’s a book about math–woop woop! Please join me in welcoming Carrie Tillotson and Cheryl Eissing; they are the author and editor, respectively, of COUNTING TO BANANAS, illustrated by Estrela Lourenço, which is releasing this April 2022!
Book description from Penguin Random House’s website:
A hilarious, mostly-rhyming picture book about a banana and narrator who can’t quite agree on what their book is about. Perfect for fans of Mo Willems’ We Are in a Book and Adam Rex’s Nothing Rhymes With Orange! When a narrator starts filling this story with fruit, Banana can’t wait to step into the spotlight. The book is called Counting to Bananas, after all. But as more and more fruits (and non-fruits) are added to the story, Banana objects. When will it be time for bananas?! With laugh-out-loud text from debut author Carrie Tillotson and brought to life by illustrator Estrela Lourenço this is the story of a banana and narrator who have very strong opinions about what should (and should not!) be in this book. The perfect next read for fans of Jory John’s The Bad Seed series!
Note: Carrie’s photo by May Gunsul
Kaitlyn: Hi, Carrie and Cheryl, thanks for joining us today!
Carrie: Hi, Kaitlyn! Thanks so much for having us!
Cheryl: Hello Hello! Thank you for having us.
Kaitlyn: To start off, Carrie, can you share how you came up with this story? I bet it has something to do with being a biostatistician, making you the perfect person to write this book. Can’t wait to hear more!
Carrie: Ironically, the idea had little to do with being a biostatistician! It actually came from my son’s swim class, where he had to perform a starfish float as one of his skills. The instructor always counted “One-two-three, four-five-six, seven-eight-nine, BANANAS!” and he always laughed hysterically. One particular day, when the instructor said, “Don’t you love my counting to bananas?”—I knew, a picture book title was born. I had no idea what the book would be about, but being a biostatistician, I was delighted to have a math book to work on.
Kaitlyn: That’s the best! I love when life leads you right to the story you’re meant to write, but you also have to be a great writer to follow that lead! Cheryl, can you share what you thought when you first read this story and what made you want to acquire it?
Cheryl: When I first read the story, I was instantly in love with the word play and rhyme. Rhyme is so tough to get just right and I was immediately struck by how well Carrie could have a story of a banana arguing with the narrator of the book, while also incorporating a rhyming concept book underneath. Also–and this is something I look for with every book I acquire–I could immediately see it playing out in book form. Even though I had no idea who would illustrate or what the design would be, or much of anything, really, a book immediately started to take shape in my head.
Kaitlyn: Wow, I think that just shows how much you’re meant to make books when you can just see it forming in your head. Can you both share why you think this is such a great book for kids?
Carrie: For me, it builds off of my son’s experience with his swim teacher surprising him with counting to bananas, instead of counting to ten, and his hilarious reaction. I wanted to incorporate that same sense of surprise and delight of upending expectations to entertain readers.
Cheryl: Ha! I love that this was the inspiration for Counting to Bananas, Carrie! For me, this book has everything: a hilarious main character; bouncy, rhyming text; it’s a counting book, and it’s a book that breaks the fourth wall. It does it all!
Kaitlyn: Yes! Those multiple layers and awesome surprise makes it such a wonderful book! As a math teacher, a foundation of enjoying math is so important for kids to feel like they can do math as they get older. Can you each share why you think a book like this can be helpful in providing that love of math early on?
Carrie: My hope is that children will first be delighted by the humor and surprise in the book, and because of that, will continue engaging with it by counting all the fruits and animals. Laughter and learning make a great combo for engaging with any kind of new idea!
Cheryl: Absolutely agree, Carrie! Humor is so important for learning, especially at an early age, and Counting to Bananas is a great way to introduce math and counting in an accessible and fun way.
Kaitlyn: Yes! I hope all the kids that read this just fall in love with this book and know that math can always be this fun! Carrie and Cheryl, can you share a bit about what it’s like to work together on a book and if the process changes at all when you work on the second book together? **Spoiler alert readers: they have another Banana book coming out next year, too!**
Carrie: Cheryl has been so great to work with! When I first sent her Counting to Bananas, she wrote back with a revise and resubmit request. Her feedback was so helpful in creating a few tweaks that made the book really sing. With B is for Bananas, the biggest difference is that Cheryl asked me to write an alphabet book with Banana and we met to brainstorm ideas, as opposed to me coming to her with an already written draft.
Cheryl: Carrie has been a dream! I feel like we instantly understood each other and what we wanted to accomplish with Bananas. She is a really talented writer but also a very talented reviser. She would always take my notes with careful consideration and come back with something even better than I anticipated. For book two, I knew we needed another story featuring Banana and felt like an alphabet book could be the perfect sequel. Carrie and I brainstormed about how that could play out and then Carrie wrote the first draft of B is for Bananas. The art is currently being created by the wonderful Estrela Lourenço who brings Banana and his antics to life in a way I never thought possible. I’m so excited for readers to get their hands on these books!
Kaitlyn: Thank you both for sharing this fantastic information, and readers, take note, revision is such an important part of the process. If you are an amazing writer and revisor, editors will always be excited to work with you! Carrie, can you share some insight on how to create a picture book character that has the potential to be a star of more than one book?
Carrie: Ha! If only I knew! I originally had no thought or intention of turning Banana into the star of multiple books. It was quite the surprise when Cheryl asked me to write a second book. I suppose what is unique about Banana is the opinionated character voice and the fact that Banana is put into some pretty precarious positions that make readers laugh.
Kaitlyn: Awe, you are just the best, Carrie, so humble, but also observant; that’s wonderful advice for writers! Can you share some more advice for authors?
Carrie: Follow your heart, gut, intuition—whatever you call it. When I first wrote Counting to Bananas, it gave me all the feels. But some early beta readers told me it was their least favorite of the things I had written. Somehow, though, I had a deep “knowing” that this book would sell. I didn’t think it would be my debut since concept counting books are notoriously hard to sell, but I listened to my intuition to press on, and am so glad I did!
Kaitlyn: YES! This industry is so subjective, follow your heart! Cheryl, from your editor perspective, can you share some great advice, too? Maybe about how to break into the industry?
Cheryl: Read read read! Something that is invaluable in any aspect of publishing is knowing the market. Keep tabs on trends, conversations in the book industry, new and upcoming books, etc. Whether you’re looking to get into editorial, publicity, sales, knowing the market is always important and imperative to doing your job well.
Kaitlyn: I totally agree! Agents and editors can almost always tell when you haven’t immersed yourself in the industry; do yourself a favor, and definitely take this advice. Cheryl, with your great editorial eye, can you share one of your favorite books and share what qualities you think make this such a standout book?
Cheryl: Oh this is a hard question–there are so many. One of my favorite picture books is I AM A STORY by Dan Yaccarino– it tells the very long and complex history of storytelling in such a smart and succinct way. It is also a really good lesson in how important every single word is in a picture book and how text and art work together to tell a story. Unmatched! And because I LOVE word play–one of my recent favorites is OVER BEAR, UNDER WHERE? by Julie Hedlund and Michael Slack. A hilarious and clever introduction to compound words in a super accessible package. Such a fun story.
Kaitlyn: Wow, readers, check out this mini-master class on picture books. If you haven’t read these books, pick them up ASAP. Carrie and Cheryl, I’m super excited for COUNTING TO BANANAS as well as the next Banana book. Can you tell us a bit about the next book, B is for Bananas!, and anything else you are excited about that you’re working on?
Carrie: I’m so excited about B is for Bananas! In it, Banana returns to disrupt our narrator’s idea of a conventional bedtime alphabet book. Estrela Lourenço did such fabulous illustrations for Counting to Bananas, and I can’t wait to see what she does in this next book! As for other projects, I’m currently enamored with a picture book biography I’m working on about a Victorian-era doctor who cracked the case of how cholera was spread in a time before the germ-theory of disease, and how his methods became the foundation for modern epidemiology. As a biostatistician trained in epidemiology, this story has fascinated me for years!
Kaitlyn: WOW! They both sound phenomenal! I can’t wait to read them!
Cheryl: B is for Bananas brings the reader through a bedtime-themed alphabet book, but of course with Banana who believes the book should really be about him. It’s hilarious and I can’t wait for readers to get their hands on both Banana books! All of the books I’m currently working on I can’t talk about yet! But some books I’m really excited about that are coming out soon are A Family Looks Like Love by Kaitlyn Wells and Sawyer Cloud, which is a sweet and heartwarming picture book about all the different ways a family can look, and This Field Trip Stinks by Becky Scharnhorst and Julia Patton, a picture book told through journal entries about a young boy and his school full of animals as they embark on a class field trip.
Kaitlyn: WOW! Those also sound so good. I can’t thank you both enough for these great book recs. Finally, if you could meet your favorite writer, illustrator, mathematician, or scientist, would you sit by the fire with a warm beverage or head off on an adventure outdoors?
Carrie: Definitely an outdoor adventure! I love walking and talking, whether it’s running with my neighbor, hiking with family and friends, or walking my two dogs.
Cheryl: I’m definitely more of a homebody, so I vote for sitting by the fire with a warm beverage.
Kaitlyn: Count me in for both, and thank you both again for sharing so much wonderful information with us today!
Carrie: Thank you so much for having us and Happy New Year!
Cheryl: Thank you for having us, Kaitlyn!
Carrie Tillotson is a biostatistician turned children’s book author, whose debut picture book, Counting to Bananas: A Mostly Rhyming Fruit Book, arrives on bookshelves in April 2022. As a child, Carrie loved to read, paint, and draw, and thought books were written by dead people. She later met a real-live author and realized she could be an author one day, too. After getting a master’s degree in public health and working as a biostatistician for more than 10 years, Carrie now sculpts her interest in science and fun into playful picture books. When not reading and writing, you can find her running, playing games, and eating ice cream (though usually not all at the same time). She lives in Oregon with her husband and son, two dogs, and two chickens. Carrie is represented by Tracy Marchini at BookEnds Literary Agency
Cheryl Eissing is an associate editor at Flamingo Books. She edits picture books, middle grade, and young adult, and is specifically interested in stories that expose their readers to experiences and perspectives that the children’s book world hasn’t seen before. Cheryl is the editor of the USA Today bestselling Pages & Co. series by Anna James, the New York Times bestseller The Little Ghost Who Lost Her Boo (written by Elaine Bickell and illustrated by Raymond McGrath), My School Stinks! (written by Becky Scharnhorst and illustrated by Julia Patton), Love Is Here by Mike Malbrough, and a number of upcoming picture books, including Counting to Bananas (written by Carrie Tillotson and illustrated by Estrela Lourenço), A Family Looks Like Love (written by Kaitlyn Wells; illustrated by Sawyer Cloud), and This Field Trip Stinks! (written by Becky Scharnhorst and illustrated by Julia Patton). Cheryl is always looking for silly yet profound picture books and stories that entertain, educate, and inspire young readers. When she is not editing books, Cheryl can be found befriending dogs on the streets of Jersey City. Follow her on Twitter @cheryl_eissing.
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Thanks as always, readers, for reading my blog and supporting wonderful creators.
Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez
PS. If you haven’t preordered the Team Sanchez books coming out this year, we would be so thankful if you do so now!